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Stay in Earth’s slums or carve out a life in Earth’s Military Forces. Two brothers make a choice that will change their lives forever.
Mark and his brother Tyler survived the slums with a gun in their hand and a blade in their sleeve. While it won’t get them hired at a corporation, the Troopers are always looking for trained killers.
The EMF offers education, medical care, food, and real pay. They have a chance at a new life, one where they don’t have to worry about a rival gang killing them in the street.
With a thirty-five year EMF contract the Victor brothers might have a new life, but it comes at a hefty cost.
Peace doesn’t last and the EMF doesn’t care how many troopers die as long as they complete their mission.
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Welcome to Earth and Her Colonies, the universe ain’t all rainbows and pretty planets, mostly it’s putting rebellions down, one bloody round at a time.
Home for Youth, West Complex Three
Mark looked to his brother Tyler. They weren’t related by blood, but they’d watched each other’s backs for as long as they’d been alive. When they turned eight, they picked their last name—Victor—to cement their brotherhood.
Now, a year later, it was time they left their prison, otherwise known as the government-funded youth home.
“Clear.” Mark’s voice was low. Whispering was for amateurs; people were more likely to pick up on the hissing noises.
Mark moved from his position, knowing Tyler was behind him. Their steps were silent as they passed Marty Choi, the night watchman. A small, but angry man. When you were twelve years old or younger, it didn’t matter whether Marty was massive or small. He was still bigger than you and knew how to give a beating for being out of bed.
Mark flowed through rooms, using the shadows as cover as they moved from the second floor down to the first, toward the kitchen.
A light came on ahead. Mark and Tyler pressed underneath a cart.
Mark saw Tyler’s face, determined as his own.
Marty came out of the kitchen with a sandwich. He walked through the halls, twirling his baton carelessly as he fiddled with the thing.
Mark felt his chest tighten as Marty walked right down the hall they were hiding in.
Tyler squeezed Mark’s calf, signaling he’d back Mark’s play.
Mark didn’t move. His breath caught as Marty passed their cart with a tuneless hum. His humming faded as he continued his patrol.
Mark moved his head a few inches.
The corridor was empty and Marty was nowhere to be seen.
“Let’s go.” Mark kept his voice low.
They got to the kitchen, pulling rags and rough goggles over their faces.
The goggles itched something fierce, and scratched the sides of their faces, but for the next part they’d need them.
Mark’s adrenaline spiked as he walked to the kitchen’s delivery door. He saw the grin on Tyler’s face, feeling it on his own face. After a few breaths, he looked to Tyler, getting the nod.
He threw open the door. A siren went off as Tyler rushed out first, with Mark right behind him. The swirling metallic red dust clouds of Mother Earth whipped at their faces and made breathing hard through the rags.
Fueled by adrenaline and desperation, Mark and Tyler ran.
They might only be nine years old, but they’d been in orphanages for their entire lives. The strong won and the weak lost, whether the strong be the older kids or the people running the orphanage. If a kid stepped out of line, getting a beating or going without food was the norm.
You grew up fast inside those walls.
They made it across the street, when they heard yelling. Marty had reached the delivery door.
Too late, Mark thought as Tyler clambering onto the roof. Mark grabbed the ledge, pulling himself over with Tyler grabbing his shirt.
“Go!” Mark yelled, his voice muffled. Tyler got the idea and started running, jumping between barely standing buildings. Mark followed, trying to not look down at the ground ten feet below.
I hate heights.
West Complex Three was just another section of the slums that dominated Earth. Cities of the elites were separated by electrostatic fields that kept Earth’s dust out.
Down here, there were no shiny monoliths of metal and glass. There were crumbling buildings and shacks anywhere there was space.
Neon signs showed where bars and flesh clubs lay.
People shifted through the streets, covering against the dust storms that blanketed Earth. A shot rang out as someone tried to steal from a vendor. The thief went sprawling; the people just walked around them. Death was your next-door neighbor in the slums.
Mark and Tyler had only seen the city from a distance—now they were in it.
“I think we’re good,” Tyler said in a rush between breaths. They were inside what had been a parking garage. Flimsy shelters were laid everywhere—the residents’ attempts to reduce the wind and dust.
“Yeah,” Mark replied, careful to not remove his rag. Breathing in the constant dust would turn him into a coughing wreck.
“What do we have here?” someone asked, slowly walking up to Tyler and Mark.
There were three others with them. Goggles, masks, and thick clothes hid their gender. It didn’t hide the makeshift blade in the talker’s hand.
“We don’t want any trouble.” Mark stepped beside Tyler. They hadn’t hit their growth spurts yet; they were shorter by far, but neither of them was going to give up his newfound freedom easily.
“Oh, I do like you. The slavers are going to love you,” the talker said. Laughs came from the other three, who had fanned out around them.
Mark saw people moving away from the commotion, hiding in their tents or turning their backs. Just like the orphanage.
Mark and Tyler had put their noses into more than one altercation. They didn’t fight the adults—that would only get them a bigger beating and there were more adults. Though they could beat any other kid.
It’s been years since we beat up an adult, and it was two of us against one. Not four adults against us.
“Fox, Miller—grab them,” the talker commanded.
Tyler and Mark looked to each other, nodded and then faced their targets, side by side.
“Maybe they’ll keep you together to please the old men and women from Mega City.” The talker laughed. The noise sent a shiver down Mark’s back.
The shortest one, Fox, came toward Mark. His hands were out, reaching to grab him.
At least I think it’s a he. Mark struggled against Fox’s grasp. They pulled him close. Mark drove his knee into Fox’s groin. Fox bent over to grasp his groin in pain.
Yup, a man. Mark grabbed the man’s mask and goggles, using them as a handhold as he drove his knee into the man’s face. Fox’s nose crunched against his knee and blood poured from his face.
Fox stumbled backward as he reached into his clothes.
Mark tackled the man, knowing that he was going for a weapon.
Fox let out a gasp and Mark felt something sticking out of Fox. Who was now screaming. Mark didn’t have time for that; he needed a weapon and quick.
He pulled out the thing sticking into Fox’s side. The man dropped to the floor, holding his side.
Mark stabbed Fox in the throat. Blood spurted as he ripped the blade out again, trying to not focus on Fox’s noises. Tyler needed him and he didn’t have time for the dead.
Tyler and Miller were in a tussle; the non-speaker was moving to join in.
Mark was only a few feet from them.
Tyler saw Mark and rolled away. Mark jumped on Miller and brought the blade down with all his strength into Miller’s head.
Mark and Miller fell—the latter dead, with a knife sticking out of his skull.
“You’re going to pay for that! Kill them, Hume,” the leader said to the one who had been watching.
Hume didn’t look so confident now as he glanced between Tyler and Mark. His eyes rested on Mark as if seeing him with a new attitude.
Hume seemed to make a decision and moved forward.
Mark’s eyes went wide as a hole appeared in Hume’s chest.
Hume looked as stunned as Mark as he pitched forward, falling on his face, dead.
And then the leader’s now headless corpse fell, legs twitching.
Five men walked out of the shadows of the parking garage. One holstered a pistol under his large black duster coat. On his arm there was a black patch, with W3C stitched into it with faded white lettering.
Mark turned to face the new threats. He could feel their eyes on him.
Three moved around him and Tyler to check those that they’d killed.
Mark could see their organization and trust in one another. No one turned their back on someone armed in the slums unless there was trust.
The shooter stood five feet from Mark and squatted down.
Mark was ready to rush him if he needed to.
He’s dangerous. Mark knew he wouldn’t survive a fight with him, but Tyler might have a chance to run.
“Hello there. Sorry about this mess.” The man waved to the four dead people as if it held little importance. “These four thought that they could start abducting people in our territory. Though it looks like you helped us out a fair bit with those two.” He shifted his chin to point at Fox and Miller.
He seemed to wait, seeing if they said anything, and sizing them up.
“Well, I’m Quentin Richter, leader of the Westerly Three Complex crew. What are your names?” He looked to Mark and Tyler.
“Tyler!” Tyler said.
Dammit! Mark resisted the urge to glower at his younger brother, never taking his eyes off this strange man.
“Hello, Tyler,” the man said. Mark could see the man’s mask move as he smiled. “And who are you?” He turned his gaze onto Mark.
“Mark.” He sighed.
“By your clothes, you’re not part of a crew and the way you killed those two, I’d say you haven’t done much killing. Orphan runaways?” Richter asked.
Neither Tyler nor Mark said anything.
“Strong silent types. I get it.” Richter waved the conversation away.
“Well, if you want to join a crew, come to our compound and tell your names to the people on watch.” Richter’s hand went in his duster. Mark tensed; Richter pulled four blades and tossed two at Mark’s feet, the others at Tyler’s.
Mark grabbed one, his eyes never leaving Richter.
“If you want to learn how to use those, come and see me. Anything you take from these four is yours.” He glanced at the bodies, seemingly unaffected by their deaths.
He stood and looked to Mark and Tyler.
“I hope to see you soon.” He examined them again, as if burning their faces into memory.
Tyler stared at Mark as soon as they were gone.
“Can we go join them? Please?” Tyler asked.
“Search those two. I’ll search these two,” Mark said, pushing the conversation off.